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The monthly Sing For Joy newsletter contains a letter from the program's host, Rev. Alexandra M. Jacob, along with a listing of music selections for each program and the corresponding scripture readings. If you'd like to receive a complimentary subscription, fill out our online request form to subscribe.

September 2021 Newsletter (Year B)

Pastor Bruce Benson

Grace in a Well-Paddled Canoe

One of summer's joys for me is pushing off from shore in a canoe, and paddling  to wherever the spirit moves me around a lake or down a river. I know that kayaks have become more popular than canoes, but I still like my old canoe with one paddler up front and another stern paddling with a nicely polished "J" stroke. I'm apparently a team-sport person at heart.

Work and art blend in canoe paddling. As with all the arts, of course, if one takes work out of the equation, the art disappears as well. There is no art without work. One can have effort without art but not art without effort. That's true in a canoe and in the studio or concert hall as well.

One ingredient that helps physical work become art is rhythm. From the stern of a canoe, I have experienced this both positively and negatively. My wife and I have canoed together so many times we can fall into a pleasant and efficient paddling rhythm within just a few strokes, moving wordlessly from an unhurried easy-going sunny afternoon 6/8 rhythm to a quickened here-come-the-storm-clouds 3/4 to a that-was-lightning-and-thunder 1, 1, 1, 1 hurry up home! My grandson, on the other hand ... Well, let me first say that he can be excused for his less-than-expert paddling. He is a beginner, a novice. How does it show? Not in effort; he has plenty of that, he's a strong paddler. But he has almost no rhythm, and therefore pretty much no art. That makes the job harder for both of us. I need to teach him about the French-Canadian Voyageurs who sang while they paddled. They used music to help them find and keep a good rhythm. And a good mood.

Most physical labor benefits from finding a good rhythm, whether that labor is done with utensils in the kitchen, a hayfork in the barn, or a broom on the floor. Even the American woman who won a gold medal for throwing the discus at this year's Olympic games saw the art in her muscular effort. Valarie Allman said about throwing the heavy discus, "I think it's a second-and-a-half dance that you do hundreds of times and it's really repetitive, but gosh-darn, I do think it's a dance. It's poetry. It's balance. It's grace. It's power."

I can tell you from experience that there is grace also in a well-paddled canoe. And I can tell you with equal conviction that in non-rhythmic, chaotic paddling there is neither poetry nor grace. Grace, the giver of abundant life, like the heart and lungs that keep us literally alive, seems to flourish with rhythm. As a Sing For Joy listener, you hear grace regularly through the seasons, both in the Church's music and in the three-year rhythm of the Church's Common Lectionary. May that remain true as we now take up the rhythms of autumn and a new school year.

Peace be with you,

Bruce Benson

Pastor Bruce Benson

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